How do I help my kid plan a fulfilling future?

If your kid had a dollar for every time someone asked, “what do you want to do when you grow up,” they might not have to do anything! They could retire young with lots of cash. Asking what they want to do that lines up with their interests and purpose is a better question and will set them on the path towards a fulfilling future. It’s likely to be a circuitous journey, but with you by their side they’re going to figure out what road to travel.

Finding the best fit for life after high school—whether that’s college, the military, or a vocation—comes in building concrete next steps, a plan for pursuing a future that’s consistent with their vision for fulfillment that’s purposeful and realistic.  It’s a non-linear  process that includes:

  • Exploring potential life pathways
  • Planning out multiple options
  • Building a community of trusted advisors
  • Taking first steps
  • Choosing a pathway based on their values and priorities
  • Committing to a pathway and starting to navigate towards it

Help your kid mix the right cement for their next step early.

Start young

No need to wait until high school to start considering options for finding purpose. Purpose starts with interest. Pay attention to what your kid pays attention to. The kid who enjoys drawing, may become a UX designer. The penny pincher might choose investment banking. When you see an interest, nurture it. Take the artist to the museum. Open a savings account for the budding financier. If your kid loves animals, volunteer together at the local humane society. When you see a spark ignite, help your kid to recognize what that means about them. This self-awareness can fuel their future choices. Make a list of what you observe them getting excited about and you’ll start to see a pattern emerge that may identify that road they’ll eventually set off on.

Use 1:1 time to reflect together

Set aside some 1:1 time to talk together about what makes them curious. Dig deep with probing questions like:

  • I notice you enjoy reading history. Tell me more about that.
  • You seem to like putting your outfits together, are you interested in learning more about fashion?
  • The school projects that take most of your attention are science-based. What is it about the process that intrigues you?

Make connections and expand their horizons with a mentor

If your kid truly is fascinated by chemical reactions, maybe there’s a scientist in your neighborhood or social circle who’d be willing to tell them more about that career path. Family, friends, and even friends of friends are great connections for kids to learn more about potential professions. Build a network of support and a community of trusted advisors as a resource.

Tell your story

How did you discover your passion? What roads did you take to end up where you are today? Is there a different road you wish you’d taken? Share your story and be vulnerable. You’re making a safe space for your kid to tell you what they’re really interested in.

Take your kid to work

Leverage your experience to introduce options. Even if they’re not interested in your career, you’re exposing them to a work environment. It’s a chance to speak with your colleagues and learn about how many different opportunities exist within one organization. That may open them up to even more ideas about what they may enjoy pursuing.

Encourage several options

Multiple path planning not only lowers anxiety, it builds confidence and resilience. When there’s a back-up plan, it’s easier to move forward with life. Advise your kid to come up with three alternate plans that include:

  • A timeline
  • The requirements to achieve the goal including degrees, certificates, experience
  • A budget to get there
  • A list of their skills and passions that align with the opportunity
  • The reason why this path is a good fit 

Be a dreamweaver

Kids need to mentally build a picture of themselves doing different things. Even if their concrete next step is to play for the NBA or star in an Academy Award-winning movie, don’t discourage them. Do ask what it is about these dreams that interest them and align with their vision of who they want to become. Encourage them to dig deep by asking, what’s the best part of your dream and is this something you can actually see yourself doing? Continue the conversation to unpack more details. In doing so, they may hone in on even more areas of interest. Help them to recognize that In order to reach a big goal, they’ll have to take obstacles into account and plan for how to overcome them. 

Be a cheerleader

Love and passion are great motivators. So is your encouragement. Embrace their interest and cheer them on. Point out accomplishments and small wins they’ve achieved to advance forward. Support them and walk with them through the process to try on different interests.

A kid who understands the intersection between who they are, what they’re passionate about, and what they can do is building the concrete next step to find a best-fit for their future.